Sunday, October 13, 2013

Archie Comics and Their Intriguing Ability to Stay Relevant

Archie Comics, Kevin Keller, and...Zombies?
Back in the days of my childhood and early adolescence I would enjoy reading Archie Comics. Whether it was about Archie and his eternal conflict of whether he should commit to Betty or Veronica (by the way, I'm fully team Betty because she is much more pleasant even if she isn't rich), Jughead and his incomprehensible ability to eat anything and everything, Sabrina casting spells, Reggie being a total jerk, or any other member of the gang, I always had a moderate level of fun with Archie Comics.

Eventually I just sort of tapered off and stopped reading their stories as I switched more to super-hero related comics and then a variety of independent publishers. I thought Archie Comics made products that were cute, but a little outdated and definitely not topical or especially relevant to today. Seeing as how I'm talking about Archie Comics, clearly that changed at some point.
Kevin Keller, a pretty cool guy.
I would say when Archie Comics first started getting more attention from the "mainstream" comic-book crowd (and media in general!) would be when they announced and introduced Kevin Keller. He was the first gay character (at least openly, I've always had suspicions about Reggie, he tries a little too hard to get ladies) to ever appear in the publisher's comics, and suddenly a company that looked stuffy and old-fashioned was doing something quite progressive.

There was the whole fiasco with some homophobic group known as "One Million Moms" trying to protest the comic (folk may also recognize them as the the organization that urged a boycott of JC Penney due to their having an openly-gay spokesperson in the form of Ellen DeGeneres, a move which actually boosted sales at the company), and it seemed some folk took a whole, "Think of the children" platform, even though I've never understood why teaching children to hate gay people is a supposed family value to some people. In the end however, Kevin Keller was introduced, became quite popular, and actually has his own series with Archie Comics right now.

A lot of thanks for Kevin's success as a character goes to the fact that he is well-written (Dan Parent pretty much always writes Kevin and does a great job) in a way that does not play into any gay stereotypes, or which makes him little more than a token "cause" character. Kevin is just another likable person in the Archie-verse who gets into various misadventures and also happens to be gay. Kevin Keller is popular, Archie comics is getting more press attention, and then things get even more interesting with a new comic that just came out that I at first thought was a joke when I heard it announced. Yes, I'm referring to "Afterlife with Archie".

"Afterlife with Archie" is a comic that feels like it shouldn't exist in within our universe yet thankfully does. It is not all-ages appropriate and therefore only found in comic shops due to its darker and more violent content. You see, it features zombies invading Archie's town of Riverdale. Yes, you read that right, zombies. With amazing art by Francesco Francavilla that carries an amazing amount of dread, it is absolutely goregous. Plus the weird mish-mash of normal everyday Archie conflicts (will Archie take Betty or Veronica to the big Halloween party?) and gruesome horror of zombies attacking people actually works in a surreal way that boggles the mind.
Jughead, Hot Dog is not your friend anymore, run!
Basically, Jughead's dog is sadly run over (we later learn by Reggie) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch tries to help make things better by bringing "Hot Dog" back to life, but instead a monstrous zombie rises. Before long Jughead is infected and not long thereafter he's a shambling flesh-eater making his way to the Halloween party, with a cliffhanger on the last page of his arrival to said party making it clear we need to read the 2nd issue to see things really get nasty. It is all extremely weird yet incredibly fun.

All these factors result in the panel for Archie comics this year at NYCC apparently being absolutely jammed with fans eager to hear what 's next. Oh, and what is next? Apparently, Betty and Veronica may be disappearing in some manner in the main Archie-verse to be replaced by two other female characters. To this news I can only be surprised and also kind of wonder how long such a change this major sticks. Sure, introducing a new character such as Kevin Keller can last forever, and a mini-series set in another world where Archie faces zombies could go on for a bit, but getting rid of Betty and Veronica, how can that work? Then again, just a couple of weeks ago I would have asked how in the world an Archie & zombies comic-book could be possible, so perhaps we shall see.

A publisher I once had pretty much written off as obsolete is now more topical than ever, and making quality stories to go with the boost in relevancy. Archie Comics is producing some good stuff and I wholeheartedly look forward to seeing what comes next.

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